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Tom Brady, ‘Moneyball’ and ‘hidden’ talents

The name Tom Brady is synonymous with NFL greatness. Even those of us who live outside of the US and don’t follow American Football, know that he is considered NFL royalty.

He has won too many accolades to even list, and last month he again showed his class, and lead his team (the New England Patriots) in an epic comeback, to secure a 5th Super Bowl title and arguably cemented his position as the greatest quarterback in history.

But recently I had read about his rise to fame, and could not believe that he almost didn’t get drafted into the NFL at all! He was in fact only drafted by the Patriots in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft – player number 199, with 6 quarterbacks chosen ahead of him. He also started as the fourth string quarterback at the Patriots.

How could that be? How could one of the best NFL players of all time, be overlooked?

Well in early 2000, Brady was one of the many players who attended the annual NFL Scouting Combine, where college players perform physical and mental tests in front of NFL coaches, general managers, and scouts. Brady’s performance here on a number of tests still rate as some of the most uninspiring, and fifteen years later, his 40 yard sprint time still stands as the slowest among active NFL starting quarterbacks. A year later, at the end of 2001, Brady lead the Patriots to their first ever league championship. He was named MVP of Super Bowl XXXVI and became the then-youngest quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl.

While reading this, I was reminded of the movie ‘Moneyball’, in which Brad Pitt plays a baseball coach who has to build a team with no budget to buy any big name players. He is forced to think differently and to find ‘hidden’ talent. Along with a young Economics Graduate from Yale, they set out to do this by using a sophisticated and revolutionary analytical approach towards scouting and rating players. The result was a record breaking 20 game winning streak, with a team of players who held no value to others in the league.

What these two stories have in common, is that they both show us the extent to which extraordinary talent can be overlooked for ordinary reasons, and highlights the flaws that can exist in how we assess and identify talent.
In the case of Tom Brady, his appearance counted against him, and he was famously rated on his ‘draft’ report, as having a “poor build, being too skinny, and lacking great physical stature and strength”. The selectors were also blinded by his scores on tests like the vertical jump, and the 40 yard dash, which Brady has admitted are not his strengths, but as he has also pointed out, have no real relevance to ‘quarterbacking’. What he did show, is that what really counts is delivering under pressure, and executing when it matters, and he did this better than any quarterback selected ahead of him. He just needed a chance to show it.

‘Moneyball’ also revealed how shallow and flawed we are when it comes to evaluating people, as numbers were used to find value in players that others could not see, and who had been overlooked because of superficial factors like age, appearance, personality and even how they threw the baseball. As the old adage goes, never judge a book by its cover.

But more so, these stories also reveal an even greater asset that is often untested and remarkably underestimated – someone’s heart. What we often fail to recognise or value, is someone’s desire, passion, determination, perseverance and commitment. In ‘Moneyball’ we see a group of players who stood on the fringes, and were then suddenly given a lifeline, and were valued as players. They were instilled with self-belief, became part of a revolution in baseball, and together made history.

In Brady, we see a player who spent his formative years being overlooked, being undervalued and made to feel that he did not deserve a place in the ‘big leagues’. What they missed though was his heart, his belief and single-mindedness to prove himself. They didn’t understand what drove him to succeed and how he embraced this struggle to become the best.

While Brady celebrates his 5th Super Bowl championship title, we are reminded that hidden talents are not really as hidden as we may think. All it takes is to look in the right place.

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